31 March 2007

Dreaming of being the world's leading...

TWL has been accused, in the past, of being nothing but a picker of the lowest-hanging fruit. Fair enough, I say. Why make life hard for yourself..? If there's low-hanging fruit to be picked, pick it. I've fallen off a ladder before picking high-hanging fruit and it hurt...I don't want to do it again.

It's also difficult when people make it so very easy for us...when they quite literally dangle their low-hanging plums right in front of our noses (sorry...not "literally"..."metaphorically"). Take this, for instance...there's that much low-hanging fruit here I'm considering opening a greengrocer's.

It's a press release from a company called Pure. Pure is chuffed to bits to have been recognised in some new media industry awards. That's fine - I'm sure Pure is very good at whatever it does - but would you really stick a press release out to announce that you've been highlighted as the country's 11th fastest growing new media company? Surely there are at least 10 other companies more worthy of coverage..?

I do sense that Pure might've been a little uncertain about the newsworthiness of the announcement, so it understandably chose to engage the services of a PR agency to impart some much-needed spin. This it did...the second paragraph started with the following six words:

"Pure reached the coveted top 12..."

Excuse me? Since when has the top 12 of anything been coveted? Unless, of course, you're a chicken attempting to get your best egg into the box. Still, Darren Fell, Pure's founder, was "absolutely thrilled to have reached number 11"...a phrase not heard since Lisa Scott-Lee released her last solo single (and even then it started with "I would have been...").

Pure's PR agency is called flannel. I kid you not. The web address is www.no-flannel.com but it's called flannel. You might as well have called it Spin, Puff, Smoke and Mirrors. It was established by an ex-hack, though, so it's probably spot on. And having a name like flannel does allow for some brilliantly misreadable quotes in its own press releases, such as this one when flannel was appointed by Sponge (yes, really):

"We've got some exciting developments and client campaigns happening over the coming months," said Douglas McDonald, Client Services Director at Sponge. "flannel will help us to effectively reach our target press audience with this news."

Yep, Doug, I'm sure it will.

And this, when flannel won new client Bazaarvoice:

"We're extremely excited about our roll-out into Europe, and flannel is helping us become known to the retail, business and marketing press in the UK," said Bazaarvoice VP of Marketing and Products Sam Decker.

Just don't forget a dash of waffle, Sam, and a sprinkling of bullshit.

Still, it's memorable, I guess..?

30 March 2007

If brevity is the soul of wit...

...then this is the funniest press release I've ever seen.

I love it...if you ignore the headline and the boilerplates, it's only 63 words long. And that includes one "leader" and one (bless 'em) "the world's leading"...it's quality.

Anyone got a shorter one..?

29 March 2007

Real v. Virtual...it's a no brainer...

I was reading something the other day about Text 100's efforts in Second Life. Actually, I started reading and then, realising it was a story in "Second Life News Network", I figured it might be a less than balanced perspective so gave up. Not before I'd seen that it was a look at Text 100's "Expo"...basically a virtual exhibition hall for showing things off (I've been in and I still don't get it, by the way).

Back in the real world - you know, the one where I do real work for real clients, earn real money and pay real taxes and therefore make a real contribution to society - it was about this time that I was told about the Lewis PR Battle of the Bands, an event held at Lewis PR's own venue, The Media Centre at Millbank Tower. I know we took the piss a bit at the time about the venue being less than rock 'n' roll, but reading about Text 100's virtual venue got me thinking...which might be best, a real or a virtual place to hold events?

Let's think about it for a minute. Lewis has its own state-of-the-art venue. This means that it can hold its own events there - like the Battle of the Bands - which presumably means it doesn't have to pay venue hire fees, just cover the costs. So the Media Centre saves it money. Not only that, but the venue can be used for client events which Lewis will charge for (price list on the website). So the Media Centre makes Lewis money (this is real money, by the way, not Linden Lira). How much do your clients pay for venue hire every year? Imagine that revenue in your bank account rather than some hotel's...

Presumably this is part of the reason why Lewis has the money (even if you don't think it's enough) to consider opening a bunch of real offices on proper pieces of land in genuine cities across the earth?

But hold on. Shall we take a quick look at Text 100's Second Life Expo?

No, let's not. It's a bit rubbish.

There's a smell of delicious irony here too (perhaps). Back in early October last year, Lewis won the PR account for Linden Labs, the creator of Second Life. Now, knowing how long these pitch processes take, an early October decision might've meant agencies first being shortlisted in, ummm, July, or maybe even August.

As you'll remember, Text 100 made a huge song and dance about being the first PR agency to establish a presence in Second Life at the beginning of August...you don't think there's a chance Text 100 was in the running, do you, and thought that establishing a Second Life office might be the commitment the client was looking for..?

Ha ha ha ha ha.....
Introducing the exception that proves the rule...

Here's an American speaking sense! A snippet from an interview with Brian Solis, the man behind the PR 2.0 blog (not the James Warren one, obviously...though we reckon he'd probably agree with much of what Solis says). We couldn't have put it better ourselves...

"Many PR people don’t even read the trades that matter to the companies they represent, let alone participate in social media. Social PR does not take the place of traditional PR – and nothing beats relationships.

"I speak about this subject quite a bit, and the only way to get the PR industry to listen is through shock therapy. Why? Because PR people have a horrible reputation that’s in the same boat as lawyers and used car salesmen. Yet there’s little done to correct it outside of the PR echo chamber.

"In the game of social media, PR is not invited to the party. This is because PR, as a whole, is believed to be incapable of engaging at any level that requires believable engagement. After all we are spin doctors. We don’t get it. We can’t write. We like adjectives. We are simply spammers of information and not at all able to speak to influencers (or the people formerly known as the audience) because we’re too dumb to understand what we’re talking about and why it’s important. And, we try to always control the message.

"All this because as an industry, we have not done a good job of PR for PR. Therefore I encourage those who really want to learn, to participate without an agenda, to help change this dreadful perception.

"It’s critical that we understand the infrastructure of social media and respect it in order to participate in the dialogue. And more importantly, if you don’t have the expertise to contribute from a professional standpoint then don’t bother. And I’m not talking about PR, I’m referring to their understanding of the product and market related to the company you represent."

This, to me, is issue no.1 for our industry moving forwards. We talked about it a couple of months ago in a rather gloomy look forward to 2007...how social media was supposed to be the thing that truly brought PR to the fore; that allowed us to demonstrate our expertise as communicators. But it's not happening, because we just can't allow ourselves to let go of the message.

No doubt there'll be a few who'll post comments telling me that we're over-reacting, and that nobody reads blogs or listens to podcasts anyway so it doesn't really matter. But of course it does...social media isn't going away and - in different guises, sure - it will be increasingly influential in all markets. But, once again, as an industry we're going to let a great opportunity slip through our fingers.
And in some countries, they still drown witches...

I read this over at Getting Ink this morning:

"A journo chum emailed us this morning to see if we too had noticed the increasing number of requests we’re getting from PR types to see our stories before we publish them. I thought about it and yes, I’m getting a few more of those requests. But I tend not to worry about it, because my default response to any request to see my copy before it’s filed is ‘sorry, no chance’."

I'm astonished. Does that seriously still happen? Who's doing it? Is it you?

If so, stop it now, you imbecile. What's that? It's your clients that want to see copy...it's not your fault..? Well find your balls and start consulting. Tell your clients that it doesn't work like that (unless, of course, they want to ruin relationships with hacks before they've even got them) and if they don't want to listen, tell them to try direct mail instead. Then they can spend all the time they want approving copy.

The rest of the Getting Ink post is worth a read too.

28 March 2007

Ask Ant (or possibly Dec)...

Our friends at the MCS Agency are busy, aren't they? Not only this morning do they have their event to launch the porn purchasing solution masquerading as an "alternative payment system for online services" but they're also hawking around an opportunity to interview a fella called Ray Santilli.

In case you don't know (and you probably don't), Santilli was the guy who, in 1995, exploited what he claimed was footage of an autopsy on an alien in the US back in 1947 (shortly after the famous "Roswell UFO incident")...later (after a grilling by Eamonn Holmes, no less) admitting it to be largely faked (or, to use Santilli's own words, "only partially real"). The story was also the basis for the more recent film, "Alien Autopsy" featuring Ant & Dec.

The note from MCS, sent yesterday, states:

"Ray Santilli, the self styled Conspiracy Doctor, as featured on pages 28 and 29 in today's Daily Star is available for interview and further revealing conspiracy stories."

As if Santilli being self-styled wasn't enough to convince you of his credibility, surely being featured on not one but two pages of the Daily Star does the job..? No, then MCS suggests this:

"Just Google 'Ray Santilli'. You will be amazed."

Here's a suggestion from TWL. Just Google 'Ray Santilli and fraud' and be informed...
A different type of spinning...

We've talked before about how, when it comes to naming your new PR company, for a supposedly creative industry so many seem to show a complete lack of creativity and simply name the company after themselves...Edelman, Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marstellar...the list goes on and on. Hardly a showcase of originality, is it? So when this morning I came across a PR company I'd never heard of before, but which seemed to have fallen into the same, uninspired naming trap, I was ready to let rip. But it isn't so.

The company in question is Parker, Wayne & Kent (some of you have already got it, haven't you?) Visit its website...go on...and you'll see three rather odd images at the top. At first glance, I thought they were close-ups of people playing Paper, Rock, Scissors (which perhaps was how the agency resolved client billing issues) but they're not...and when you notice the tagline "Heroic Public Relations Consultants" it starts to become clear.

The first picture is of a hand in Spider-Man web-spinning pose (Parker...Peter Parker...geddit?), the second hand is in Batman punching-fist-into-palm-in-frustration pose (Wayne...Bruce Wayne) and the final hand is in Superman off-for-a-quick-fly pose (Kent...you know the rest).

How about that, eh? Naming your PR company after the everyday names of superheroes! Unless, of course, the founders of the company are really called Parker, Wayne & Kent? Which would be some coincidence.

It appeals, in a childish way. However, I do wonder if they're setting themselves up for a fall by calling themselves "heroic"? After all, it's a big claim. Indeed, when posting a job vacancy on UKPress yesterday, the first "team value" that applicants were asked to ascribe to was this:

"1. Heroism - To be heroic is to be: a problem solver, admired, benevolent, chivalrous, confident, courageous, daring, exceptional, gallant, good, great in a crisis, influential, noble, one in a million, powerful, reliable"

Crumbs...and there are only six more values to ascribe to! And you'll need to be able to save the planet on a regular basis.

No mention of salary, funnily enough.

27 March 2007

Caption competition...the result..!

It might be a bit quiet on the blogging front this week. Would you believe it? I'm a bit busy! With, like, proper work and that. In fact, I'm so busy that I clean forgot to announce the result of our Richard Millington photo caption competition.

Thanks ever so much for all the entries. There were quite a few..."I think therefore I am...(insert your own word or phrase here)" and a couple of "I should really stop fucking around with the superglue..." and a bunch more that raised a chuckle. Only one made me laugh out loud though...and here it is:

"I can see right up your skirt..."

23 March 2007

Lewis Battle of the Bands..."not too bad"...

This just in from a journo attendee at this week's Lewis event:

"It wasnt bad. Some goth metal band with a sexy lead singer won it. Gareth Gates was one of the judges - all very amusing. Not many journos there though - just the usual CW liggers."

All the news, as it happens.

Next week, Hill & Knowlton holds The Price Is Right for analysts...

22 March 2007

The question is, do you swipe it..?

So a well-regarded technology journalist forwarded a press invitation to TWL this afternoon. It's for the UK launch of ClickCard which, according to the invitation, is an "exciting new innovation for secure shopping on line." Seems fair enough given our journalist covers, amongst other things, security issues.

The journalist in question was amused by the fact that the launch event was planned for 11.00am at "The World Famous - Sunset Strip, 30 Dean Street, London" and it doesn't take a PhD in Gentlemen's Entertainment to work out what that particular venue's main line of business is. In fact, you can see for yourself here.

"What sort of crazy agency brainstorm generated that idea for a launch location?" our journo wondered. And so did I...so I thought I'd take a closer look (not at the venue, you understand...not today, at least).

The agency organising the launch is MCS Agency which is based at number 47 Dean Street, just a few doors down the road from Sunset Strip, so my immediate thought was, "lazy bastards."

Try this though. Visit the MCS Agency website...click on MCS PR and then on the "View our current clients" link. ClickCard is listed sure enough (though loses a "k" on the site) and described, again, as "a unique ‘Alternative Payment System’ for online services that gives the user complete anonymity and a safe payment method."

Again, all seems fair enough...until, that is, you click on the link to the ClickCard website itself...when it becomes apparent that the important bit about this "unique ‘Alternative Payment System’" is the "complete anonymity" it promises, along with the particular type of "online services" it pays for...suddenly a launch at a strip club doesn't look so odd.

Be warned, the ClickCard website very quickly becomes Not Safe For Work...especially if you enter as an over 18 year old and then click on "Free samples."

Well, I have to research these things properly...
It's those orange boiler suits they make 'em wear...

I lucked upon a blog I'd never seen before this morning. Actually, two blogs, but one more notable than the other. It's called Analyst Equity and is edited by Duncan Chapple of Lighthouse Analyst Relations. It has, frankly, the snappiest strapline I've ever come across:

"Global AR experts show how tech suppliers & analyst firms use the analyst-vendor-user triangle to grow brand equity & build corporate value."

How about that, eh? Not even the faintest whiff of bullshit.

The other thing I noticed was the most recent post, which highlighted a new blog from another analyst relations expert called Marc Duke. Aside from the fact that our editor Duncan Chapple managed to get the second spelling of Marc's name incorrect in his headline (have a look, you'll see what I mean), the post includes an interesting description of Lewis PR. Here it is:

"He [Marc] deserves kudos for surviving Lewis - the Guantánamo of the PR world"

Crikey! I'm not even sure we'd risk that one. Having said that, there is an immediate caveat (though do we sense a tongue firmly in cheek..?):

"(of course, in the sense that it's a highly-professional outfit, in the sunniest of environments)"

That should save your bacon...perhaps.

21 March 2007

She said it was a good motor, but I'm not so sure...

What happens when you get rid of your knackered old motor? You patch it up with putty, stick it in Exchange & Mart, con some 19 year old into shelling out £1,500 and then run like Linford Christie with a hot poker up your backside, that's what.

Not, though, if you're the tech writing, folk singing, semi-professional skeptic Wendy M. Grossman, that is. When Wendy said goodbye to her clapped out old Nissan Prairie, she wrote a two and a half thousand word lament to it. Sweet...ish.

I can understand how people get attached to consumer goods though. You should've seen the state of Chris Green when he had to get rid of his fridge.

20 March 2007

He's at it again...

Richard's back on the gender debate. We're in the comments.

He's changed his picture too. Captions to theworldsleading@yahoo.co.uk - best one wins a prize...
More on the Lewis expansion plans...

This has just winged its way into our inbox in response to our post about Lewis earlier today...it's from someone who knows plenty about building a global PR business:

"Doubling the number of offices will not be easy and should cost a lot more than his estimated $2m. At $2m that means each office would only cost $100k. Can’t see him building much of a presence at that price. Whether he can actually grow this fast will largely come down to how good his regional infrastructure is. If he has good people in the three regions they can each add a few offices. Six or seven per region will be very tough though. And it will mean Lewis making a loss as it will be hard to start so many offices and not lose money in most of them. My guess is that this pronouncement is a sign he’s bulking up for the big sell off…"

Could this be true..? Are we soon to see a big For Sale sign erected outside Millbank Tower..? Watch this space...
Tech media headline of the day...

Does Jack mean what I think he means..?

If you're planning on crashing an event this week...

...can you make it this one and tell us just how dreadful it turns out to be?

At least the venue's rock 'n' roll, eh..?
Have you heard this already..?

Excuse us if this is old news...or even just a scurrilous rumour...but we hear that pit bull of the channel press Karl Flinders will be returning from paternity leave to take up the position of deputy news editor at CW.

Or did we just dream that..? He is on paternity leave, isn't he..? That, of course, might be the real scoop...
Who do you think you are kidding Mr Lewis..?

Prepare yourselves...Lewis PR is on the march and coming to a town near you very soon...all under the command of a German, no less.

Where's Captain Mainwaring when you need him, eh?

What am I blathering on about? Well, in case you missed it, yesterday Lewis PR announced plans to double its global network of offices, adding another 20 over the next two years! It also said that it would be opening two Lewis Employee Development Centres (LEDAs) which will "‘hothouse’ new emerging talent, by providing intensive six-month training expertise." Sounds a bit like brainwashing to me.

The first of these will be based in Munich. Helloooooo......

And the whole expansion project will be directed by Andres Wittermann, VP of Lewis PR’s European region.

So let me get this straight...ambitious plans for global expansion...intensive training for young people...all run by a German fella...

Where's my tin hat?

But seriously, for a company that's opened 21 offices in the last 12 years or so, to open another 20 in two seems extraordinary. Might it be over stretching itself..? The announcement also claims that: "Investment in both the training centres and future offices over the next two years is expected to exceed $2million." Bloody right it'll exceed $2m!

Lewis does point to some impressive growth over the past year...27% in the US, 26% in APAC, 11% in Europe...though exactly what this means in terms of revenue (and, more importantly, profit) we're not sure. As you'll remember, Lewis declined to take part in last year's PRWeak League Tables as it wanted to focus on its international expansion. We assume the same excuse will do for the next couple of years too...

18 March 2007

Hotwire founder: "PRCA a waste of money..."

OK, OK...that's a little out of context. But you'll be pleased to hear that it's time again for another of our Q&A sessions with the great and the good of the UK tech PR scene. This time, the lady in the hotseat is Kristin Syltevik, co-founder alongside Anthony Wilson of Hotwire PR. I've always thought of Hotwire as a funny sort of company; it seems to fly under the radar of the tech PR industry a bit, keeping a low profile. For instance, Hotwire - despite running an event about blogging last year - only actually established its own blog last month.

The company was launched in 2000; a time which many might suggest was anything but the right moment to start a new tech PR outfit. Mind you, if anyone would've understood the financial implications it was Anthony Wilson...he'd been top bean counter at Shandwick plc before deciding to start Hotwire with Kristin (who was also at Shandwick, but in a PR role).

It seems to have been a decent enough decision, enjoying - as Hotwire has done - steady growth in fee income since its launch and now enjoying a turnover of somewhere around £4m (and which may well see an increase in this year's PRWeak league tables). Of course, we don't know how profitable the company is, and opening a bunch of subsidiary offices across Europe can certainly soak up the cash.

Anyway, here's the Q&A with Kristin...for me there's a certain (over)eagerness about the answers...she's obviously desperate to impress. Or perhaps just desperate to finish the Q&A...answering it, as she did, after having departed on maternity leave! So thanks for that. Best of luck with the baby.

See what you think...

What's the essence of the Hotwire brand?
Kristin Syltevik: Hotwire is about great work for the client and great opportunities for the team. When Anthony and I launched the company back in 2000 we had three things we wanted to achieve - we wanted to provide public relations that is measurable, insightful and international. We have created an approach to PR that is as measurable as the other marketing services, built industry specific teams that are so knowledgeable about their industry they are peers with their clients. The ambition to build an international PR agency organically has been really important to us. A lot of us came from large agencies built through an acquisition strategy and we wanted to create a team that we had hired, that know each other, that go to the same training and social events.

TWL: Since being formed in 2000, Hotwire seems like a company that's quietly got its head down, worked hard and suddenly found itself with a nice four million pound PR business without making too much of a ripple on the surface of the UK tech PR industry. Has that been a specific strategy?
KS: Well, we're heads down, quiet kind of people :-). The most important stakeholders for us are the team members and our clients. Maybe we haven't been that focused on blowing our own trumpet but in my view recognition of the fantastic team we have assembled comes from doing brilliant work for our clients. When we started out we had a really specific business plan, including the differentiators talked about above. The last six years have been about fulfilling the ambitions we had in the plan. We're now working on a project which looks at the development of the company until 2010. Everyone in the company has been involved, from our country managing directors through to the receptionists. I am really excited about the next stage of development for Hotwire.

TWL: You're an independent agency, which we always feel must be a nice place to be. Having said that, we hear that you were up for sale last year! Why didn't you succeed in finding a buyer?
Over the years we have had a lot of suitors, I guess that comes with being a successful agency and it very flattering of course. We did consider some of the offers carefully but decided that independence is frankly fantastic. No doubt as long as we continue to be successful this speculation will follow us around.

TWL: Are you still for sale?
We now have a roadmap for the next four years and a lot to achieve. It is really exciting and we're all really motivated. Launching Skywrite and restructuring the group is part of that. So, to answer your question, no, we're not up for sale.

TWL: We've obviously talked to a few peers in industry. There seems to be a view that Hotwire is happy to undercut its competition in order to win business, thereby driving down industry fees to an unsustainable level. Is that a fair accusation?
No way! I think some people misinterpret the fact that we are quite black and white with clients about what we can deliver with what they see as undercutting. We actually say no to a lot of leads because the budgets are too low and lose a bit due to our pricing so that is totally wrong. If some peers are threatened by a competitor that does what is said it would do and is totally transparent about time and deliverables that's great news!

To be serious, the 'view' may come from our approach to measurement, which at its most basic level extends to the tactical level of a campaign. We build strategic programmes that aim to solve the specific issues we are hired to solve. These campaigns are underpinned with a series of PR tactics which we promise we will execute (just like our peers in the rest of the marketing services industry). If we don't execute the tactics (say a specific creative campaign, or an analyst tour) we can't charge the client. This makes us really transparent and accountable - the client and the team love it and as a result we have very few unhappy clients. We do an annual client survey and our client satisfaction last autumn was fantastic at 81%.

TWL: You've rushed to open a whole bunch of European offices. Are they all profitable and do you have any plans to expand beyond Europe...to the US , for instance?
Being totally European was a massive driver for us and opening our own operations in the five major PR markets in Europe has been part of a strategic plan. Last year all the offices but one were profitable (and the odd one out - in its first year - lost £7,000 - not bad going!). We're now thinking about the next step and we will make sure TWL is the first to know what our plans are, if any :-)

TWL: With a couple of notable exceptions, you're client list reads like a who's who of technology companies we've never heard of. Do you find that specialising in 'no name' niche clients leaves you open to the vagaries of technology industry M&A turmoil?
KS: If you get really deep into specific technology sectors, like we do with our practice structure, then it means you get to work with a lot of extremely innovative specialist companies as well as big name players. We want to work with real innovators in the tech space, and it shouldn't matter if they are large, mid-sized or sizeable start-ups, they should all get brilliant service. BUT, to focus on some giants of the industry, have you heard about Duracell, Atari, TDK, Samsung, Mitel, BlackBerry, Sage, Tiscali...and I could go on? We work for a lot of massive, blue chip brand names across Europe.

TWL: We notice from the PR Week league tables - which otherwise reflect a healthy performance in terms of fee income growth - that you're no longer a member of the PRCA. Why not?
Because we thought that for us it was a waste of money! The PRCA is probably really good for agencies that are starting out or who haven't got an operations structure. But we run our own gigantic training scheme, we didn't seem to get any new business leads from them etc etc, so we decided that it would be better to invest the membership fee on our team.

TWL: Although he always wears highly polished shoes, why does Anthony Wilson always have something of the crazed lunatic about him? Is it because he's a bit of a crazed lunatic? Or has he just been a bean counter in the PR industry for too long?
KS: Anthony and I co-founded Hotwire together and for me it's the best decision I have ever made in my career. I just showed this piece to a colleague in the London office and she asked me to tell you that Anthony is right at the heart of the business and well loved (ask anyone at Hotwire she said). Anthony is ex-KPMG and he was head of finance at Shandwick in Europe - an incredibly powerful combination for his role heading up Hotwire's operations. I asked him about the shoe thing and he just told me he is really pleased you have noticed his polished shoes (and the rest of his amazing dress sense no doubt) :-)

TWL - thank you for asking us to participate!

No, no...thank you.

14 March 2007

Lord Bell...bullish...

...just needs the nose-ring!

No, no...really...he's very confident. Chime has posted some nice numbers: turnover up! Profit up! Blah, blah. He said:

‘We have no evidence that the growth won't continue through 2007...business continues to move from awareness to influence, which is good news for PR.'

Mind you, I'd be confident if I'd found the Holy Grail, which apparently old Belly has. But far from it being the cup used by Jesus at the last supper, he says it's his company's contract with the Qatar Financial Centre, "because it comprises advertising as well as PR."

Disappointing news to many, many Christians.

Still, the big LB's got his finger on the new media pulse:

"Digital change has not affected PR in terms of costs in the same way it affects advertising. The costs of communicating to an online audience are similar to those associated with an offline audience."

Costs that he apparently appears reticent to bear as, at time of writing, news of Chime's financial results has yet to come through its own newsfeed!

13 March 2007

FT Digital Business editor...curious...

We moseyed along to Peter "Fullrun" Kirwan's little event last night excited, along with all the other kids (Christ, we felt so old...) to see Peter Whitehead open his kimono and give us an insight into what makes the editor of the FT Digital Business tick.

It was...well...curious. Kirwan introduced Whitehead as "the man who never answers his phone" which Whitehead explained away by saying that because the supplement is not news driven, he doesn’t see the need to take phone calls from PRs. He wants to be e-mailed with ideas. Preferably based on statistically valid research

Whitehead then shared his views on some of the hacks he uses, like Mary Branscombe: "when she remembers who she's writing for, her copy's OK" and Danny Bradbury: "based on the Pacific North West, but still seems to interview too many people based in London." Chris Nuttall also got a ticking off for filing copy that began with lines from a poem about a train journey from Hull to London: "why does our San Francisco-based reporter who is supposed to be covering all the hot news from Silicon Valley begin a story with reference to places in England that will have no meaning for an international readership?"

He stressed the FT’s policy on accepting hospitality, in that they can’t accept foreign press trips. Invites to rugby matches at Twickenham seem to be acceptable, however, as Firefly took him to the England v France game on Sunday on behalf of client Adobe; though he cheerfully admitted he’s never written or commissioned a piece that mentions Adobe, and there is no increase in the likelihood that he will do so now…still, "it was good for building relationships..." and seeing the rugby for free, of course.

Interestingly, Whitehead didn’t seem to have much idea as to what his readership thinks of the supplement. He said that they had carried out surveys in the past – but these were “self-selecting” i.e. didn’t really represent the overall readership...he freely admitted he really hasn’t a clue as to whether or nor readers find the content useful or helpful.

I'll freely admit that I haven't a clue whether I found the content of last night's event useful or helpful. Did you?
Americans in use of humour shock...

...PRWeak in technological ineptitude...less of a shock.

This headline in PRWeak's US edition grabbed my attention (excuse the ridiculous spelling of "humour"):

"Microsoft uses humor online in newest campaign"

It sounds kind of surprised, doesn't it? The sub-heading endorses how out of the ordinary this clearly is:

"Waggener Edstrom has launched an unusual online campaign for Microsoft Office 2007 that uses humor to persuade people to upgrade to the new software package."

The article tells the story of an internet quiz (On the Office Couch) in which people can match their personality to a program in Office 2007 (bean counters need not bother...you're all Excel) and a comic strip (Enchanted Office..."Once upon a user interface...") in which "follows a CEO named Madeline who dreams she is princess lost in a forest of non-productivity until she upgrades to the new software."

All fair enough, I guess...we've all had to make silk purses of sow's ears now and again and these seem like fairly decent stabs at doing just that (actually, I really like the Enchanted Office comic strip!)

Click on our links above to see what they're all about...but whatever you do, don't click on the links in the PRWeak article. Actually, do click and find yourself at the login page for Haymarket Publishing's web-based email. You might even want to have a stab at a couple of login names and passwords...

12 March 2007

Blind leading the blind….

We’re going back a bit here, but Richard ‘I-still-haven’t-bothered-defending-myself-even-though-I’ve-taken-a-right-slating’ Millington and Sally ‘I’m-still-flogging 101” Flood nee Whittle had a lovely-though-slightly-pointless conversation about the best way of personalising a generic ‘send to all’ news release.

After a long 47 weeks and 4 days career, Richard’s insightful advice was:

I thought I would share a quick outlook trick i've found useful.

Step 1) Goto tools > Spelling > always check before sending (this should be on anyway).
Step 2) Write the brief introduction to the press release which references the magazine and/or why this is relevant to them
Step 3) Copy/paste your press release into the body of the e-mail at the bottom.
Step 4) Remove the contact name and put something like "D$%^S" then remove all references to any individual publication and put "Anss342".
Step 5) Now copy the whole body of the e-mail.You can now click/enter the e-mail of any contact, paste the copy into the e-mail and hit send. Then the spellchecker will prompt you to enter both the name of the contact at the top to replace D$%^S and then the publication name of "Anss342".

Not one to miss an opportunity to plug 101, Sally told Richard (who she described as “quite a smart fellow,” so you can draw your own conclusions) that he was talking bollocks and suggested the following:

1. Paste your press release into the email (try not to attach it, if possible).
2. At the top of the email address the writer by name.
3. Next, tell me what the story is. Not the heading of the press release, the story.
4. Then, tell me why this is a story for me. (how would this paper use this story)
5. Finally, tell me why I should include your client in this story

This should only take a couple of minutes if you know your markets. But the key thing to note is that your spiel would be vastly different if you're pitching to the Guardian's small business supplement versus, say, the enterprise IT manager who reads Computing. Or the public sector guy reading The Doctor. Or the science geek reading New Scientist.

Now, it is useful to remember at this point that this is a conversation between two people that don’t do PR (Sally is a journalist and Richard, with his 47 weeks of experience, to be brutally honest, does coverage boards).

So, to Richard’s point: Use mail merge, dopey. It’ll piss all over your personal best of 60+ contacts in less than thirty minutes.

To Sally’s point: Don’t confuse “news release” with “email pitch” otherwise you’ll be in a land of madness with opening paragraphs such as:

“Hi Bob, Here’s a news release about Microsoft buying SAP, I thought it might be useful for the news section in [insert IT trade mag].”

So, to clear up any confusion, here are TWL’s top tips for personalising the distribution of a news release:

1. Hire an sensible person who acknowledges the importance of walking before running
2. Teach them how to use the software on their computer
3. Get them to send it out
4. While you write sarcastic blog posts, anonymously

09 March 2007

Not that we'd ever give it the large....

But did you notice PR Weak's front page lead about August.One getting rolled into Text 100?

Can't give you the link because we don't have a subscription.

And don't need one, apparently....

08 March 2007

In Popbitch stylee no.2...

Which globally recognised technology brand recently held a series of pitches that emphasised the importance of creativity...and then dictated that all pitching agencies had to use the same corporate PowerPoint template?
In Popbitch stylee no.1...

Which UK tech hack tells this story about himself?

"A tip for you. When you're at a trade show, never trust that smoked glass to block out whatever's happening in your booth...

"I spoke to some bloke from Sage once. I didn't really understand the technology (there's too much to keep up with. For me anyway).

"So I thought I'd be straight and ask the really stupid questions. The bloke was a bit surly, but that's nothing unusual. Anyway, once the interview was over, as I stood outside Sage's glass cubicle, I noticed I could see in through the brown glass. I spotted the man from Sage, pointing at me and making "wanker" signs.

"Blimey, I was only asking! Still, I suppose he had a point..."
Existential journalist....

Somewhat wizened after years of hand-to-hand technology PR combat, TWL occasionally fails to keep up with the latest comings and goings of technology journalists.

This usually doesn’t matter as, once you’re out of short trousers (in about five years time in Richard Millington’s case), you can generally get away without knowing any journalists by simply saying ‘strategy’ and knowing how to use Excel.

But, of course, there are times when one is stuck alone in a cold office late at night, trying to rustle up a briefing document that includes some background on a collective of journalists that one has never met.

This is when you come across the likes of John-Paul Kamath, newly appointed deputy technology editor at Computer Weekly, as a range of blogs that had cut and pasted from Response Source told me with tremendously little ‘value-add.’

J-PK, like Michael Knight, it seemed, was a man without a history. Just as TWL was convinced that this was a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who doesn’t exist, J-PK’s website shimmered into view.

Exactly how useful the following background on John-Paul Kamath was to the touring US exec of a technology company is debatable, but the briefing doc was complete:

John-Paul Kamath
Deputy technology editor
Computer Weekly

John-Paul (“JP”) recently joined Computer Weekly as deputy technology editor and has the knowledge one would expect of someone in that role. He is very focused on end-user issues – indeed his mantra is “my audience comes first for me in all my work.”

Outside of work John-Paul Kamath enjoys music. His remix and DJ mixes have been broadcast on Xfm and Jazzfm in the UK and on remixes.net and KUCI 88.9fm in the US. America's leading dance magazine, URB, also praised his Late Night London Mix when it was reviewed in its March issue.

John-Paul studied under Barrie Keefe, who scripted The Long Good Friday. He also plans to self-publish his own comic, having secured – it is rumoured – an agreement with Computer Weekly to produce a weekly IT cartoon strip.

JP doesn’t like looking directly into a camera.

07 March 2007

It could only be the Daily Mail...

Brilliant Response Source request today from Diana Appleyard, writing for the Daily Mail...she's after some male shopaholics for a feature. Thing is, she only wants a certain type of male...the type that won't make her tut-tutting middle-England readers choke on their cornflakes. Here's her follow-up to the initial request:

"I sent round a response source this morning asking for male shopaholics -had several great responses from lovely gay men but now the newspaper says they must be straight for this particular feature as we need the reactionof their long-suffering wives/female partners. We can pay 500 pounds for taking part, so please can you email me if you are a straight male shopaholic! Many thanks, Diana"

Don't gay fellas who like a bit of retail therapy have long-suffering partners too? And wonderful use of the word "lovely" don't you think? A bit like saying, "I met some of those lovely Asian people this morning..." almost sounds like she's suprised that there can be any "lovely" ones.

Having said that, never has being a shopping-addicted bloke been so profitable...though isn't the £500 on offer a bit like offering heavy drinkers a couple of cases of Jim Beam for taking part in a feature on alcoholism..?

06 March 2007

Why don't you stick the kettle on love...

...while I get on with some important consulting..?

It's true, I've been guilty recently of misunderstanding the blogged word...or rather a comment or two. It happens, I'm sorry. This is the latest to have me slightly confused:

"It's not a secret that PR isn't what it was. The hard line consultancy gig has been eroded by a twenty year wave of femininity. This is never more clearly reflected that in the gender ratio of PR courses. But PR still retains a hardcore consultant element to it."

This from a post on The PR Place, a blog from 21 year old PR account executive Richard Millington, who works for a company called apt marketing & PR in Cheltenham. Of course we should probably bow to the near-teenager Richard's wealth of PR experience and the post should be read in context, which I urge you to do here.

But: "The hard line consultancy gig has been eroded by a twenty year wave of femininity." What can he possibly mean..? Perhaps he could explain it to apt's managing director, Angie Petkovic.

Still, Richard's blog does have the strapline: "Day to day PR discussion, with a splatter of sarcasm, a whiff of ignorance and a sprinkle of self-promotion"

Whiff? This one stinks...

05 March 2007

Up and down...but not out. It's Claire and Mark...

So, as mentioned and by pure coincidence, we've recently been in touch with tech PR's most senior married couple, the pair that runs the country's third best small company to work for...according to the Sunday Times...Firefly Communications. Yep, it's Mark Mellor and Claire Walker...seen here in their going out gear.

Anyone who's been involved in technology PR for more than a decade has to have an interest in the Firefly story. The glory days, the boardroom revolts, the big name client losses...these two have seen the lot, and still kept plugging away.

Of course, we don't get to interview Mark and Claire in person, so our grilling is relatively mild...and will no doubt lead to accusations of TWL being in the pay of Firefly. All we can do is send over some hopefully provocative questions and cross our fingers for some honest responses. Even given the fact that they're two seasoned PR pros, I think they've done that...it's quite long, but it's worth a read...

TWL: Would it be fair to say that the last few years have been something of a roller-coaster for the two of you? How’s your current state of mind?

Claire and Mark: We wouldn't necessarily call it a roller coaster, but it’s certainly been challenging. We've ridden the dotcom boom and bust, stuck at it through an industry recession, and seen client budgets mostly halve and expectations double. At the same time we’ve rebuilt our company into a multi-specialist agency, brought new talent on board and broadened our client base beyond tech to encompass pure b2b and consumer brands.

We’re never complacent and our current state of mind - looking at our client list, people, newbiz pipeline and current business performance - is "pretty confident". We could always do better sure, but suspect many agencies could say that about themselves. Right now we’re actually doing some of the most stimulating variety of client work that we’ve ever been involved with. There’s no shortage of opportunity for those who gather the right people around them and we feel there’s still plenty of room for us and Firefly to flourish.

TWL: You were formed in 1988 and pretty much flew through the 90s and into the new century. I’d have thought that during that time you’d have had more than one offer for Firefly, or were even tempted to float the company, why did you decide to remain private and – looking at some of your peers from the time – do you have any regrets about doing so?

C & M: We've had many offers but we didn't have the appetite and desire for a sale and still don't right now. We never felt that any of the options presented so far could offer us a better future – either personally, or for the company and employees, or for our clients.

We enjoy our independence and feel young enough to continue working, enjoying what we do and steering our own course. We've never seriously considered a public listing, as having numerous external investors disconnected with a people-based business and with conflicting short-term agendas has zero appeal. Nor have we ever packaged ourselves up for sale. Many former agency owners who have sold out have privately commented that they regret doing so. They miss their days of independence, are often bored and demotivated, and aren’t rolling in money like they thought they’d be!

We certainly have no regrets about remaining independent. There’s a lot to be said for having a big say in your own destiny and being a private company – especially in this industry and especially now. So many M&As turn to nothing and result in zero net added value. We want to grow, but we’d hate to be slaves to acquisitions and answerable to an accountant in order just to fuel a gravy train for demanding external investors.

TWL: Some of the tech brands you’ve worked with have been incredible – Oracle, Dell, Motorola, HP (or was it Compaq? I can never remember…), Google to name but a few – and yet none of them remain a client today. Why is that?

C & M: I think you’d find this true of any 10-20 year old mainstream agency. 18 years in business is quite a long time and in that time many other agencies have come and gone. It’s a transient industry with in-house people moving as frequently as agency, plus the usual client M&As to cope with (especially rife in hi-tech). With the exception of Google who we worked with for most of 2005, we handled all of the above brands for over 5 years each, and a couple for nearly 9 years (counting Compaq/HP as one). We’re proud of our track record with all of them. What’s significant is that many of the client contacts who we worked with then are repeat clients today. We currently work with some incredible brands - Adobe, Alfred McAlpine, Casio, DLA Piper, Harvey Nash, Hyundai, Konica Minolta, LG, MTV, TDK and Virgin - which is by no means shabby.

TWL: So, turn of the century and you guys are rocking…PR Week Consultancy of the Year in 2000, £7.2m in fee income declared for 2001 in the ’02 PR Week Top 150, putting you in a heady 19th position and then – bang! – drops in the following years to £5.2m, £4.7m, £3.4m and then a slight recovery to £3.5m for 2005 in last year’s table. Tough times…ever felt like just jacking it all in?

C & M: Tough times indeed, but you have to look at the bigger picture – size isn’t everything. Running a successful business at any size is more important.

2000 was a great year for us and many other agencies too. We were at the peak of a 7 or 8 year market surge and dotcom boom, but on the crest of the crash. We got off pretty lightly considering. Other agencies went bust or were forced into fire sales for a pittance. Although we were one of the top dotcom agencies, it was luckily only 10% of revenue (90% of the effort though, as anyone who worked in the industry in those days will tell you!). The real fee hits came from working with clients like Enron, Andersen and HP (our largest client at the time), and other budgets generally halving. HP moved to a global agency strategy and took out £1.1m of business in one swoop, which hurt. But that was 2003 and is relegated to the archives.

Jacking it in? Never. We’re more resilient than that and have a slightly longer term perspective and vision. Our current mission is about quality and finding the right people in order to diversify and grow to 2000 scale.

TWL: In 2005, Mark, you had a fairly public spat with Check Point Software over its lack of payment (spot on too – name and shame, I say). Did you ever get the money?

M: Mutual professional respect is an important factor in client-agency relationships and we felt that being expected to fund the marketing of a multi-billion dollar listed company making huge profit margins was not a fair win-win business deal. We’re not a free banking service, so after six months when it reached six figures, we pulled the plug on their PR programme. And yes, we did get paid (a few months later!) so it was all settled fair and square back then without write-offs or lawyers. PR agencies need to become better business people if they want to become more professional and treated with respect.

TWL: OK, so last year’s PR Week Top 150 saw your fee income back on an upward trend – but then along came the Motorola loss. What will this year’s table show in terms of fee income? Up or down?

C & M: We're not entering the table this year and most people will see why. Motorola was our largest client, which meant a 20% hit on fee income, not to mention an emotional loss after 8.5 successful years. At least we only had one week ‘on the bench’ so to speak, as we finished Motorola in August and started working with competitor LG in September. Coinciding with a couple of clients being the subject of acquisition and another introducing a global agency strategy, this all put a slight dent in last year’s fee income. There seemed little point in specially re-auditing our accounts for the calendar cycle only to re-confirm publicly what is fairly obvious to anyone who reads PR Week (and TWL of course). All agencies should contingency plan for losing a major client and we did this prudently. Our business will have moved on significantly by the time the PR Week league table appears this Spring and covers events of nine months prior. We’re not hiding that income was down for 2006 over 2005 and if it weren't for Motorola we would have grown. It’s just that we’re focused on 2007 and beyond.

We may jump back in the PR Week league tables one day, but such tables don’t tell you much about the businesses behind the claimed figures and have been devalued somewhat by those hiding behind SarbOx. If TWL followers must know, we’ve had a great winter since Motorola and our current fee income is now only just below year ago levels, and we’re in profit. We’re still a great place to work (Sunday Times Best Small Companies No.3 in the UK this weekend) with the buzz and confidence to be recruiting at AD and AE levels and some great name clients and prospects to work on, so if you’re a happy team unhappy where you are…

TWL: Back in 2002 a bunch of your fellow directors tried to wrestle control of the company away from you. Well done for beating the treacherous bastards off, but when that happened, what was your overriding emotion…disappointment that people you’d employed and trusted would do such a thing or just overwhelming anger and a desire to break their kneecaps?

C & M: Betrayal and kneecaps? It was a difficult time and is ancient history. We’ve all moved on since. After a decade of success we were all hurting in 2002. We weren’t used to a rapid market decline and a shrinking fee base, so needed a new business strategy and a re-sized board. Everyone felt so passionately about Firefly but no-one really wanted to leave.

We learnt a lot about business and different people’s values. We also put our money where our mouths were and invested the cash. It took a long while to recover financially, with no outside help (no thanks to NatWest – we hope their blog monitoring is switched on!) and we personally didn’t draw salaries for three years. Most of all we’ve proved that we can build talented teams from scratch, shoulder risk and run a solid business. More recently we’ve managed to rebuild our senior management team and proved our resilience in rocky markets while maintaining a high profile reputation.

While some people choose to dwell on the past, we’re surprisingly very focused on the next five years.

TWL: What key lessons would you say you’ve learnt over the past few years?

C & M: Always have self-belief and a longer term vision that means something to everyone in the company

Surround yourselves with great people

Value trust and loyalty - from employees and clients

Appreciate what enormous efforts it takes to really engage and motivate the workforce

Dig deep, have faith and resilience

In this industry, only the future matters

…and lots more!

TWL: The two of you are married, right? I can’t think of a more senior husband/wife professional partnership, so you must be like the PR industry’s Posh & Becks. How the hell to you avoid talking shop every minute of every day, or have you given in and spend the evenings lying in bed running through PowerPoint presentations on your bedroom’s plasma?

C & M: Yes we’re married, but we’re not sure whether Posh & Becks is an improvement or a demotion on the usual Richard & Judy jibes! As for senior, you’re as old as you think you are and the people who surround you. There are other senior PR couples out there – Lansons, for example.

We actually have very different jobs at work and have different personalities, responsibilities, clients and skills. With three busy energetic kids under 10 there's little time for work chat at home and, as any parent will tell you, kids keep your feet on the ground (and also give you an unpaid part time job as a taxi driver). We have a rule of no computer screens above the ground floor and it applies to us as well as the kids. The old adage “if you want something done, give it to a busy person” definitely applies. We’re busy and are very involved in the daily (hourly) running of the business, we make the most of technology, and make the most of precious family holidays to escape the weekday frenzy.

TWL: Firefly’s nearly 20 years old now. You must be knackered. What does the future hold..?

C & M: Firefly will be 19 years old this autumn in fact, but we feel like we’ve recently rebuilt Firefly from the inside to be a much broader, interesting place. Surrounding ourselves with bright, sparky people helps keep our energy levels and motivation up. We’re proud of our client list and still feel we have loads of potential and many years to go. Our careers are important to us. It doesn't get much more exciting than launching a new business for Richard Branson aiming to open the minds of the nation and healthcare profession about the long term potential and benefits of stem cell banking, in the same month as crisis management consulting with a major corporate, devising online PR strategies for various people, launching a new range of dual-standard high def DVD players for LG, and working with MTV on its digital platforms.

Challenging consumer, b2b and corporate issues-based assignments like these are very motivating and where we score highly. We’re not actively packaging Firefly for sale and have set ourselves goals for growth, award-winning work and diversity. The immediate future holds more growth in pure b2b/corporate clients, representing the bigger and better brands in technology, winning more pure consumer brand assignments, stronger international ties, and the growth of our European offices so that we've got a stronger pan-European footing.

2007 is shaping up well from where we’re standing, as it should be for many others in the industry.

So there you have it...optimistic as ever. We're grateful for the time anyone takes in writing to little old TWL, and Claire and Mark invested quite a lot here...not only in the words, but that picture at the top came from them too.

We know that they're keen readers, so if the Q&A has sparked any qustions of your own, stick them in the comments and I'm sure they'll pop along to respond...
Monday morning blues..? Not if you work for this lot, apparently...

Hearty congratulations to those PR companies that made it into yesterday’s Sunday Times “Top 100 Small Companies To Work For” League Table. Not that the agency webmasters dragged out of bed yesterday morning to update websites were very impressed, but hey ho…good news is good news.

PR companies in the table included Trimedia, Lexis, Bite, Lansons and Consolidated. However, holding the torch for tech PR – and with the honour of the highest position for any of the PR companies – was Firefly, sitting proudly at number 3. Well done you lot, particularly Claire Walker, mentioned as someone who “overwhelmingly inspired” Firefly’s employees (and, we presume, continues to do so). Speaking of which, watch this page for an honest and insightful Q&A with Claire and Mark Mellor of Firefly - tech PR's premier husband and wife team - being published very soon.

Surely, as gongs go, this one has to be more useful to agencies than any number of PRWeak or CIPR prizes? We all know what a nightmare it currently is finding and keeping talent, so a national paper telling the world you’re a decent place to work is worth much, much more than an industry rag or association saying you’ve done some nice PR.

It’s a bid odd, therefore, that there aren’t more PR companies in the list. The Sunday Times defines small company as having fewer than 250 employees – so 99% of all PR companies would qualify – and as “people” businesses with an eye for an award, you’d imagine that entrants would be able to drum up a decent amount of votes. Which can only lead us to conclude that most PR companies aren’t regarded by their staff as great places to work. And as one in the eye for Stuart Bruce and all his "life in the regions is so much better" cronies, every one of the PR companies in the table was cited as having its HQ in London.

Of course, as with all leagues tables, once you’re in, the real battle is to stay in, and retain or improve your position. Firefly did so – rising to third place from ninth last year – and Bite is a new entry, but Trimedia, Lexis, Lansons and Consolidated all slipped down the table from their relative positions last year. Though this probably reflects a greater number of entrants in the table this year over last, it’s a bit difficult to crow quite as much about it, isn’t it? Have a lie-in, webmaster...

02 March 2007

We don't like to talk about it...

...but we do a lot of work for charity. Well, a bit. And we'll happily blog about it.

You might have missed it, but for the past couple of month's the hugely influential US PR business blog Strumpette has been running a photo caption competition. Dream up a wildly funny line to accompany the chosen photo and you're in with a chance of picking up a cool $500.

It's a good chance for us Brits too as everyone knows Americans generally undergo a sense of humour lobotomy at birth, or shortly after, so the odds are stacked in our favour...as dear old TWL has demonstrated this month by winning! You can read all about our wittiness here.

Philanthropic souls that we are we suggested that the delicious Amanda Chapel of Strumpette donated the green stuff to a charity of her choice, so the deeply worthy Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity gets the cash.

And people say we never do anything of any value...